On Whale Oil

WhaleoilSeveral hundred years ago, a huge piece of the economy of the Netherlands was based on whale oil. This oil painting gives you a small glimpse of what an industry this was.

No question, those in charge believed that whale oil would never run out, and that if some sort of legislation or new world order came along that threatened the supply of dead whales, they would fight it–the very survival of their families were at stake.

Whale oil, of course, is long gone. And the Netherlands are still here, better than ever.

Some of the whale oil magnates and whale oil processors and whale oil catering guys in the silver trucks (okay, maybe they didn’t have silver trucks) got while the getting was good. They learned how to do something else once they saw the industry begin to decay. They took their assets–their capital, their leverage, their training–and used it to get a headstart doing some other mercantile activity. And they thrived as a result.

We’re in the middle of the biggest shift(s) of the last century–whole industries are disappearing, worldviews are changing and the rules are being rewritten. One thing I’ve noticed in Amsterdam (I spoke to about 400 entrepreneurs yesterday, not all of them young, not all of them independent, not all of them homogeneous) is that there’s a real bias for action here. People here are itching to get on to the next thing. That and I couldn’t find any whale oil for sale. Not one drop.